The benefits of fitness and regular exercise have long been documented. These benefits can extend to those either undergoing cancer treatments or survivors trying to prevent cancer from returning. Initial studies linking the positive benefits of fitness and exercise with cancer involved breast cancer patients, but new studies link those benefits to patients with other forms of cancer too. The National Cancer Institute has long extolled the benefits of exercise to prevent cancer, and now endorses a regular fitness routine for cancer survivors as well.
A study conducted by the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada reported a link between high levels of physical activity and the reduced risk of cancer returning in patients who have recovered. Similar studies have linked being overweight to a greater chance of recurrence following successful cancer treatment. Echoing the importance of fitness, the American Cancer Society supports an emphasis on weight control and some form of regular exercise to help patients improve their strength during treatment and when they reach the recovery stage. ACS guidelines for fitness and cancer prevention include the following suggestions*:
• Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of exercise of vigorous intensity per week. It can also be a variation of moderate and vigorous exercise spread throughout the week.
• Children and teens should get at least 60 minutes of some forms of vigorous or moderate exercise per week. This can include any combination of moderate of vigorous activity spread throughout the week. Vigorous activity should be limited to 3 days per week.
• Moderate exercise includes: Walking, bike riding, roller-skating, yoga, ice-skating, dancing, and horseback riding.
• Vigorous exercise includes: Aerobic exercise, aerobic dancing, swimming, running or jogging, jumping rope, and circuit weight training.
*Before starting any fitness or exercise routine, a patient should check with their doctor first to determine if a fitness routine is appropriate. This includes any possible restrictions.
Patients undergoing cancer treatment have reported some benefits regardless of the type of cancer they have. Studies suggest that patients fighting more aggressive cancers such as mesothelioma cancer may have similar benefits seen in those battling lung and breast cancer. Even mild exercise can help the body better tolerate cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and even treatment through surgery or medication. Common side effects of cancer treatments that may be eased by some type of fitness routine include:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Swelling or fluid retention
Patients either undergoing treatment or in the recovery stage don’t have to dramatically change their lifestyle to adopt some type of fitness or exercise plan. Patients can get exercise from doing things they already enjoy doing. Gardening and working in the yard, for example, can count as moderate exercise. The same is true for activities associated with work such as lifting boxes, doing landscaping work, or light janitorial work. Sports can also meet a patient’s exercise needs. Sports such as volleyball, golf, doubles tennis, softball, and baseball fit the moderate exercise category. Soccer, football, ice hockey and singles tennis are generally considered vigorous exercise due to the effort involved.
Even patients that don’t have time to play sports or aren’t able to do certain exercises due to physical limitations can still enjoy some forms of physical activity. Walking up and down the stairs a few times a day or just walking around the block can count as moderate exercise. Even cancer survivors who go back to work can still work in some light exercise by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking over to a co-worker’s desk rather than sending an email. Fitness and exercise in general can be beneficial for just about everyone. The added bonus for cancer patients and survivors just provides another incentive to keep active. Furthermore, it is important to note that a fitness routine is not intended to replace traditional cancer treatments.
by David Haas